Change.org may face legal action for censoring petition

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The Zachor Legal Institute has written a letter to Change.org threatening legal action if the crowd-sourcing platform does not respond to its request for information about why it has chosen to flag and disable some components of a petition filed by Stop Antisemitism.

The petition calls for the United States Government to investigate the infiltration of global antisemitic organizations in the US Congress, with a specific focus on the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). It includes statements questioning Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s close ties with the Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.

The petition was flagged by Change.org earlier this month. Now, a pink bar at the top of the petition page reads, “Change.org has received flags from our users that the statements in this petition may be contested. You should consider researching this issue before signing or sharing.”

Further, Change.org disabled access to the petition via Change.org user searches, blocked comments, and removed the ability for Change.org users to contribute to the petition sponsors after the petition is signed, among other actions.

Zachor is demanding that Change.org provide information that would allow Stop Antisemitism to quantify the financial harm of lost donations as a result of Change.org’s actions; provide complimentary “promoted petition” status for the petition; acknowledge that the actions taken against the petition were wrongful and issue a public statement to that effect; remove the flagged status; allow users to comment; terminate any activity that might be causing outside search engines from having access to the petition; and provide a copy of Change.org’s corporate charter and other documents that specify its purpose as a public benefit corporation.

Stop Antisemitism is a grassroots organization founded by individuals interested in “waking up the American people” and “eradicating the hatred that seeks to ruin our American way of life,” said co-founder Liora Rez. The organization has run other petitions on Change.org before this one.

Rez told The Jerusalem Post that she and her organization believe Change.org is engaging in “100% some form of censorship.”

“Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are such hot buttons of conversation all over the media in America,” she continued. “Perhaps [their people] have contacted Change.org and they are trying to control things as much as possible on their end.”

Rez said that so far nearly 30,000 people have signed the petition, but almost double that number have clicked to sign, and hundreds of complaints have come to Stop Antisemitism saying supporters are unable to click submit.

“We should have close to double the signatures based on what we are seeing in [Google] Analytics,” said Rez.

ACCORDING TO Zachor, while Change.org also has adopted community guidelines that allow it to remove content or restrict user accounts, the circumstances under which such actions can be taken are limited to the following: hate speech, violence, impersonation, violation of privacy, bullying, graphic content, harm to children, spam and illegal acts. Zachor said “Nothing in the… petition has violated any of the community guidelines or terms of service. In fact, even though Change.org’s terms of service clearly state that Change.org doesn’t monitor petitions or support political positions, that is exactly what has happened when Change.org acted to flag, demonetize and shadowban the… petition.”

Zachor noted that when Change.org requested that Stop Antisemitism provide supporting documentation to prove the accuracy of its petition, it did so and added links to the supporting information on the petition page.

These links include information Stop Antisemitism believes prove CAIR is a terror-supporting organization, such as that in 2007, CAIR was listed as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the case that found the Holy Land Foundation responsible for siphoning over $12 million to Hamas, and a 2009 ruling by US District Court Judge Jorge A. Solis determined that CAIR is Hamas.

“The negative effects of Change.org’s wrongful treatment of the subject petition have damaged the sponsor of the subject petition and have materially and adversely affected the subject petition,” wrote Zachor. “While the Constitution’s First Amendment does not generally apply to private parties acting as such, when such a party operates and controls public platforms used by the public for public benefit, that party becomes a quasi-state actor and can be held liable for First Amendment violations.

“We believe that the evidence set forth above demonstrates that Change.org has subjected the subject petition to a discriminatory campaign of demonetization, shadow banning and censorship, in violation of Change.org’s own policies, governance standards for public benefit corporations and applicable state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination principles of California and Delaware law, federal prohibitions on wire fraud and the First Amendment,” the letter continued.

A.J. Walton, a spokesperson for Change.org, previously told the Post that when a petition is flagged by users, “we review its content to see if it violates our stated policies and to determine whether or not the petition should be removed.

“Since the petition itself does not violate our terms, we have not removed it entirely,” he said. “However, we have taken steps to ensure users know we are aware of their concerns by including the banner at the top of the petition, disabled the comments feature, particularly in light of the many that violate our community guidelines, and limited the petition’s discovery on our platform.”

Responded Rez, “Change.org should be an unbiased platform.” 

Full story here.